Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gardening On The Avenues*

Box Garden By SherBeari
Originally uploaded by sherbeari
After months of setting them aside, diligently as each arrived in the mailbox, I have finally given way. The urge to get other, more crucial things done has abated. I've resigned myself to be perpetually behind on the cleaning, the tax prep, the studying; for a few precious hours I have to do an about face from the “what I should do today” mindset to what little legal, though questionable, pleasure I'll allow myself for a few warming hours this afternoon.

Bring on the stack of garden catalogs!

I do this to myself every year. I set aside those that arrive in the depth of winter, after the holidays are past but a planting spring is still a long, long time away. Gurney's, High Country Gardens, Seed Savers, Gardens Alive! I go online and look at a few more, request a catalog when I'm feeling especially hopeful and yard sassy. I look, imagine, calculate, retrench, calculate some more and, just when I think I'll send that order off I have less spine than a garden-variety slug.

I don't know why I do it to myself. After fifteen years trying to grow a lush, productive garden in this climate one would think I'd learned a few lessons. I think it is those lessons that sit on my shoulder, less the angel/devil of the conscience but more the Doubting Thomas. “Are you sure you want to order that? It says Zone 3 but truthfully probably isn't. It most definitely won't be with a garden hack like you. That hydrangea won't see July” Nag, nag, nag... but Doubting Thomas of the Avenues is probably right. So I listen and tear up the order blank that was full of my imagined hues of red and purple and pale yellow. I resign myself to numerous visits to local greenhouses that proves far more rewarding than only getting packets of seeds in the mail. Doubting Thomas still rides along, but I'm able to tell him to pipe down a little more easily when I'm eye to eye with that gallon size Big Boy plant that is pulsing with bacon, lettuce, and tomato potential.

With life being nothing more than a series of lessons, I embarked on a new gardening method last year and I believe it's going to stick. Previously, I had mixed in my vegetable plants with perennials around the yard and found last year to be my limit of that. I have some very sunny spots along the back of my house that seemed to be the right place for tomatoes, tomatillos and assorted peppers, but the mountain bluet and the Persian coneflower had other ideas and crowed out the edibles. I did get a few tomatoes, but the soil was too low in calcium and I had to trim away more than a few bottoms in making up the batches of backyard salsa. Along our boulevard my husband constructed two raised beds for our first try at the practice of square foot gardening. We visited the website and noted the basic principles. We raided the garage for untreated wood and used up what I'd been stubbing my toes on for years in building the boxes. We had a good supply of compost from a castoff compost bin, bought very little in the way of potting soil, making a useful home for the ripped open bags that no one else seemed to want, and we were off to the food growing races. We planted seeds that we had on hand, many for years, and set to work planting in the warm, dark soil.

It was an important time for our daughter, just 7, to see what effort we went to in planting the boxes. We had good talks about where food comes from, the importance of taking care of what we hoped to eat, the encouragement to not throw the dog's tennis ball into the center of the boxes, and the best use of water. We wrote down what was planted where, talked some more about watering, reminded her little brother that we were growing delicious vegetables for the dinner table and waited. She had been particularly excited to plant her own packet of flowers in her own square. She checked daily, waiting for the emergence of the seedlings. Up came the radishes that I had over planted, the turnips, the beans, the mixed up assortment of lettuce and even the wisps of new carrots – but no flowers. We watered more, I explained all the reasons I could come up with as to why the lovingly-tended seeds were not cooperating. Finally and well into June, on an excursion across town, I made a quick dash into the greenhouse at the Co-op and found a six-pack of Dianthus. With over three hundred species of that plant documented and a reputation for hardyness, I figured at least these six could survive a summer on the maiden voyage of our over-loved boxes. I planted under the cover of dusk and waited a couple of days before I called my daughter with an exuberant “LOOK! Your flowers are blooming!” to see a look of joy on her pink cheeks with no sign of her understanding of the gardening deception perpetrated by her germination-challenged mother. She cared for them throughout the summer and took great pride in their growth and color over the picket fence.

As this spring makes its tentative approach, the challenges of past years becomes part of garden amnesia and the soil in my corner of the world is full of promise renewed. The raspberries will continue to produce and bring us jars of jam, I'll remember to net the grapes in the hopes that we won't lose every grape cluster to some opportunist of the animal or insect kingdom like last year, I'll again look into acquiring a cider press, to expand our enjoyment of the local apple abundance, make more delicious plum jam with the help of a neighbor's prolific tree and dream of my garden boxes' palatable potential. If I have my way, my yard will have less grass to mow and a multitude of boxes with bountiful salad makings. Come September, if you have more peppers than persistence, give me a call and I'll make sure they have a glorious home in a jar of heirloom salsa. Now, if I could just get a nice little goat that I could name Fido to take care of the lawn maintenance and retire our limping-along lawnmower, I would be in home farming paradise.

*Originally published in The Powell Tribune special section "From The Barnyard To The Backyard" on March 25, 2010

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